Royal Barge Procession – A Majestic Tradition of Thai Culture and Heritage

By Mark Wiens 26 Comments
Thai Royal Barge Procession with Wat Arun is the Distance
Thai Royal Barge Procession with Wat Arun is the Distance

Normally a choppy, dirty, transportation waterway, Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River came to a complete halt.

Garbage and vegetation were thoroughly cleared and beams of sunshine shimmered off the glassy top of the river.

Armies of catfish, which normally cluster along the banks of the river fighting for food, evenly spread throughout the river, breaking the surface occasionally like miniature humpback whales.

The peacefulness in Bangkok was unbelievable.

Fresh spring rolls and duck on top of a bed of fried ivy gourd leaves
Fresh spring rolls and duck on top of a bed of fried ivy gourd leaves

I, along with James, Chris, and Kevin were invited by Tourism Thailand to attend a rehearsal of the Thai Royal Barge Procession (กระบวนพยุหยาตราชลมารค) on the 6th of November, 2012.

Lunch is of course an essential part of any event in Thailand, and prior to the Royal Barge Procession, we were treated to a wonderful feast.

The crunchy deep fried ivy gourd leaves below a succulent breast of duck, which was generously topped with crispy fried shallots and drizzled in sweet tamarind dressing, was absolutely delicious.

The beautiful deep fried soft shell crab
The beautiful deep fried soft shell crab

Another favorite from the meal was the deep fried soft shell crab placed over a bed of sliced jicama. The crab melted in my mouth and chewing was hardly necessary.

But before I get too carried away with the glorious Thai food, let’s proceed to some of the spectacular scenery from the rehearsal.

Thai Royal Navy Grounds
Thai Royal Navy Grounds

We were positioned on the Bangkok grounds of the Thai Royal Navy, opposite the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, along with a host of media photographers and videographers.

Model of the Krut Hern Het Barge
Model of the Krut Hern Het Barge

At the entrance of the Navy compound there were a few models of the Royal Barges set up on display.

Thai Royal Barge Procession
Patrolling the water

Police and military slowly patrolled the Chao Phraya River, monitoring to confirm everything was in order.

Royal Barge Procession
Royal Barge Procession in full swing

After patiently waiting for the ceremony, and after seeing the procession in the distance slowly winding its way down the river, the boats were finally right before us.

Oil-lacquered Dang Barge
Oil-lacquered Dang Barge

The procession consisted of 52 boats operated by a total of 2,311 oarsmen provided by the Royal Thai Navy.

Each vessel was strategically arranged in a formation of 5 columns across the river while spanning 1,200 meters down the river. It was indeed a magical sight as the calm parade floated down the river in perfect composition.

Royal Barge Narai Song Suban H.M. King Rama IX
Royal Barge Narai Song Suban H.M. King Rama IX

Our position, directly across the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, made the scenery even more spectacular – the mid -afternoon sun glistening off the gold and red rooftops.

Calmness of the Chao Phraya River
Calmness of the Chao Phraya River

And like I mentioned above, the catfish spread throughout the entire river, occasionally bubbling on the glassy surface.

Royal Barge Anantanakkharat glides though the river
Royal Barge Anantanakkharat glides though the river

Although the fleet consisted of 52 separate barges, there are just four main Royal Golden Barges, which can be seen on display throughout the year at the Royal Barges Museum in Bangkok.

View of the Ekachai Lao Thong Barge
View of the Ekachai Lao Thong Barge

Each and every barge is unique, ornately decorated, and a masterpiece of craftsmanship.

Royal Barge Suphannahong
Royal Barge Suphannahong – The Golden Swan

The most spectacular barge in the fleet in my opinion, was the Royal Barge Suphannahong. This enchanting golden boat was formed in the shape of a mythical swan and includes a crystal ball hanging from its teeth.

Carved from a single trunk of teakwood, the Golden Swan measures 44.9 meters in length and employs 50 oarsmen.

กระบวนพยุหยาตราชลมารค
Rhythmic rowing and chanting

The oarsmen rowed in rhythmic patterns, strictly obeying the command of their leader.

But the rowing and display of barges were only half the experience. The other essential component of the Thai Royal Barge Procession was the Royal chanting (don’t miss the Thai Royal Barge Procession video at the bottom of this article to get the full effect).

The chant, which was composed solely for the procession, was a soothing tune that paired remarkably well with the entire ceremony and coordinated to the smooth rowing technique.

Thai Royal Barge Procession (กระบวนพยุหยาตราชลมารค)
Thai Royal Barge Procession (กระบวนพยุหยาตราชลมารค)

The music, the precise choreography, and the elaborate fleet of vessels, made the rehearsal of the Thai Royal Barge Procession a truly grand spectacle to witness in Bangkok.

While the water procession is only held on rare occasion, attending the magical ceremony is certainly one of the top things to do in Bangkok.

The final boats in the procession pass and drift downstream
The final boats in the procession pass and drift downstream

I thought the Thai Royal Barge Procession was a priceless glimpse into the traditional culture of Thailand and a remarkable preservation of craftsmanship and heritage.

Now, press play on the video!

(If you can’t see the video, you can watch it here on YouTube.)

Thank you for watching. Wasn’t that amazing?

26 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Tom

    8 years ago

    Hi Mark! Amazing blog! good writing and great helpful content. I added a link on my blog to this particular post. Great pictures!

  • Sirinan Robkob

    8 years ago

    Wow, those are really nice pictures and interesting story…It’s such a shame as a Thai but didnt even have a chance to see that. Thanks for sharing your story and pictures..

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      You’re welcome Sirinan, glad you enjoyed this. I really had a good time seeing this ceremony live.

  • Roy Cavanagh

    8 years ago

    Fantastic photos and video, Mark. You’ve really captured the spectacle and grandeur of the occasion. And I like the way you got the photos of the food in there too! Any event in Thailand isn’t complete without the food. Great stuff.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Roy, yes right about that, there must be food present at any event in Thailand, and rightfully so! Thanks for taking a look and leaving a comment.

  • Johan L

    8 years ago

    Tanks for the footage. You are such a good journalist. With a combinatition of personal dedication and interesting topics you almost make me feel I was there. Thanks.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      I really appreciate it Johan, thank you for watching!

  • Red Hunt

    8 years ago

    Wow, stunning photos…this is oddly the second Thailand post I’ve read today that has started to get me interested in visiting. The procession seems like quite an event…thanks for posting a different kind of Thailand post…cheers!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Red, thank you for checking this out. It was a really fascinating ceremony. Hope you can visit Thailand sometime in the future!

  • Katie

    8 years ago

    I love Bangkok. A must see if you’re in Southeast Asia. Have some pad thai for me. Great photography! So jealous…

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thank you very much Katie, I’ll have some Pad Thai for you!

  • Christina

    8 years ago

    I always get so hungry when I visit your blog. Just when I thought reading this article would be safe, you had to put the picture of the soft shell crab in there… 😀

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Haha Christina, everything revolves around food!

  • Arti

    8 years ago

    The procession looks fantastic! Wonderful captures, the whole thing looks well organised and the background is great!!
    Have a nice day Mark 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks for checking this out Arti, it really was a treat to see it!

  • Erin

    8 years ago

    Wow! It’s hard to imagine anywhere in Bangkok coming to a standstill (unless it’s in a huge traffic jam). I wish I had been there to see (and taste) that…

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thank you Erin, you’re right, this was the most peaceful I had ever seen Bangkok!

  • Jeff

    8 years ago

    Hey I saw this yesterday! Now that I’m in Bangkok, want to grab some fruit and street food together?

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Jeff, glad you were able to see it, yes let’s grab some food!

  • Sonja Waschke

    8 years ago

    Very beautiful ! I’m im Bangkok singe 7.11. And didn’t know about the procession on Nov 9th. What a mess !

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Sonja, I’m sure it did cause some traffic backup, and there were no river boats either!

  • Max Neumegen

    8 years ago

    Nice close up photos and a different view from the other side of the river.
    I am glad I witnessed this on the first rehearsal 2nd nov from high up in thamasat university building looking down on the river to see just how big this procession is, and to hear the singing echo around the buildings.
    This view from above at 5th floor was far one of the greatest specticals I have experienced in my traveling life.
    Far better than the final procession on the 9th that could only be seen from the river side as everything higher was closed off.
    There are some photos and video on my Facebook.
    Thanks

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Max, that’s awesome you were able to see the procession from the 5th floor of Thammasat. We were talking how it would have been nice to get a view from a top angle, and to be able to see the entire procession in a view. Glad you saw this!

  • Jane

    8 years ago

    Thank you so much Mark. I had really wanted to see this for myself but was unable to. Your video & commentary was excellent.

    Thanks again. 🙂